V. Stiviano (real name Vanessa Perez), the woman heard on the infamous Donald Sterling audio recordings, emphatically denies she was his mistress.
In an interview with Barbara Walters on “20-20” she says she was his “silly rabbit.” (Which, frankly, sounds worse.) Curiously, V. and Sterling both graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles, albeit 48 years apart. (She in 2000, he in 1952.) Who knows, maybe they met at a Rough Riders reunion picnic?
I’ve only seen Sterling in person once and yet I remember him all too well. It was 1991 when I was lucky enough to have courtside seats at a Clippers game. Sterling was seated right across from me and just by his appearance and manner, including yelling at his players, he seemed pompous, narcissistic, obnoxious and rude. (As the late Lenny Bruce joked after a rant like that, “Gee, I hope I’m not out of line.”)
But who knew Sterling was a racist. Actually, everyone. As a talk-radio host friend said, “It was the worst kept secret in sports.” (Just ask Elgin Baylor, my boyhood hero, who lost a discrimination lawsuit against Sterling but must feel wonderfully vindicated.) And yet, the Clippers are in the Western Conference semi-finals while the Lakers brain trust can only dream of ping pong balls.
This brings me to Jim Buss, who along with his sister, Jeannie, and their four siblings, own the Lakers which, all due respect to Billy Crystal and Penny Marshall, used to own L.A. But, having just lost more games than at anytime in their fabled 65-year history, I’m not sure what the Lakers currently own, other than a grim future. As Charles Barkley said recently, “They stink and for the next few years, they’re gonna stink.”
It can’t be easy being the son of the late Jerry Buss, whom many consider the greatest owner in the history of professional sports. Under Buss’s stewardship from 1979 until his death in 2013, the Lakers won 10 NBA titles and were in the NBA finals 16 times. Buss was reverentially referred to as Dr. Buss (having a PhD in chemistry from USC) whereas his 54-year-old son is referred to as “Jimmy.”
Suffice it to say, Jimmy doesn’t exactly have the gravitas of Jerry. In fact in the 14 months since Buss Sr. passed away his beloved Lakers have essentially gone into the toilet. And whereas Dr. Buss’ every move seemed a winner, Jimmy’s seem the complete opposite. His devotion to his prized center, the long-departed Andrew Bynum, and his giving Kobe Bryant $48 million over two years, double his market value, rightly or wrongly, only typify the contrast between his image and his father.
Last year, due to injuries, Bryant played 77 minutes, or $172,055 per minute. Steve Nash played 281 minutes but was more “economical” at $33,098 per minute. And next year, thanks in large part to Buss Jr., Bryant and Nash’s salaries will exceed more than half the entire salary cap.
But it appeared Jimmy might have caught a break when Sterling’s racist rants hit the airwaves. But then, especially with talk that Magic Johnson might buy the Clippers, the spotlight got even brighter. With the Lakers’ foreseeable future grim and the Clippers clearly ascending, and if Magic were a part owner, there’s conjecture that L.A.’s basketball heart is definitely up for grabs.
Now, with Mike D’Antoni out of the picture, Jim Buss has a chance to redeem himself with the hire of a new coach. But, if he blows it, it will only confirm his less than sterling image (pun intended) with Laker fans. Curiously, Jimmy recently said if he didn’t turn the Lakers into championship contenders in three or four years, he would step down. Somehow I can’t imagine Dr. Buss having ever said that.
There’s an old expression “If you want to look thinner hang out with fat people.” So it may be for Buss with Sterling, who is exceedingly litigious. If Sterling fights giving up the Clippers in the courts and drags it out for a year or two that could be a major blessing in disguise for Buss. For example, if Sterling’s ownership is still in place at the start of next season, I can easily foresee where Doc Rivers would refuse to return as coach. And who knows, maybe some key players might sit out a season rather than play for an avowed racist.
As the Clippers try to advance further in the NBA playoffs with the hopes even of an NBA title, the Lakers are praying they get a lucky bounce from a ping pong ball. Oh how the mighty have fallen. But, with the hire of a high-profile coach, Jim buss is reportedly hoping to make “a big splash.” Between you and me, I just hope it’s not from a belly flop.
Jack also writes “Laughing Matters,” which appears every Friday. He can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or firstname.lastname@example.org.